Suicide rates were in the news, with The Guardian reporting that men are at higher risk than women and The Daily Telegraph saying that middle-aged men are the highest risk group.
The stories are based on a report on suicides in the UK for 2012. It reveals that overall, the number of people committing suicide was slightly lower, but not significantly different from the rate in 2011.
Suicide rates have generally been in decline since they started being recorded in 1981.
However, the official figures show that male suicide rates are more than three times higher than females. The highest suicide rate was among men aged 40 to 44 at 25.9 deaths per 100,000.
In England, suicide rates were highest in the northwest and lowest in London.
The new report on suicides in the UK for 2012 has been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is a government body which collects national and local data on social and economic issues.
The ONS found that:
The ONS report includes suicide rates, broken down by age and sex, since 1981. These show that overall suicide rates have declined over the last 32 years. In women they have almost halved, from 10.4 deaths per 100,000 in 1982 to 5.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2012.
Among men the fall in suicide rates was far smaller, from 19.8 deaths per 100,000 in 1982 to 18.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2012.
However in both groups, but particularly in men, the suicide rate did not decline consistently over this period but fluctuated from year to year. Male suicide rates increased in the 1980s and peaked at 21.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1988. There were also notable annual rises – such as between 1989 and 1990 when the suicide rate rose from 19.8 per 100,000 to 21.2 deaths per 100,000 and again between 1997 and 1998, when rates rose from 19.0 to 21.1 per 100,000.
Among some age groups of men, suicide rates are higher than in 1981. For example, in 1981 the suicide rate among men aged 40-44 was 21.5 per 100,000. In 2012 the rate was 25.9 per 100,000.
The ONS collects mortality data across the UK, including information on the cause of death, certified and coded by a doctor or coroner.
Researchers calculate suicide rates per 100,000, making allowances for the differences in age structure of the population over time and between sexes. They also calculate whether differences in suicide rates are statistically significant, using 95% confidence intervals.
The media reporting was generally accurate. The Daily Telegraph included views from experts that the spike in suicides among middle aged men could be due to loss of traditional male jobs in heavy industry as well as social changes in the family. Changing habits such as greater openness among women and younger men talking about their problems, said the paper, had “passed many middle aged men by”.
The ONS report does not address the reasons for any differences or fluctuations in suicide rates. There is speculation that economic factors play a part. The Samaritans suggest that men in the lowest socioeconomic groups and living in the most deprived areas were the highest risk group for suicide.
The charity believes the internet may also have a role in suicidal behaviour, and it has announced that it is carrying out research with Bristol University into the role the internet plays for those with suicidal thoughts.
If you have thoughts about taking your own life, it's important you ask someone for help.
Many people who have had suicidal thoughts say they were so overwhelmed by negative feelings they felt they had no other option. However, with support and treatment they were able to allow the negative feelings to pass. If you are feeling suicidal, there are people you can talk to who want to help:
Read more about getting help if you're feeling suicidal.
If you are worried that someone you know may be considering suicide, try to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Listening is the best way to help. Try to avoid offering solutions and try not to judge. If they have previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression, you can speak to a member of their care team for help and advice.